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Image source: http://www.coach.com/online/handbags/Home-10551-10051-en

The homepage, according to popular belief, died sometime in the summer of 2014.

At its funeral, the bell that tolled most deafeningly was the leaked New York Times innovation report: homepage traffic had fallen by a whopping 50% in recent years. But its not just news brands that have hastened to alternative traffic sources; fashion brands informed that user engagement now occurs predominantly through “side doors”, and have flocked to maintain an omni-social approach: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest are supposedly the only platforms their customers care about.

Right? Wrong – at least when it comes to luxury fashion retail. In fact, a rising trend of customers “researching online, purchasing offline” – dubbed ROPO – is clear to see in customer engagement with luxury labels (emphasis on the ‘customer’, rather than the ‘user’). Whilst some fans may view the latest runway shows and lookbooks by indirect means, those who actually intend to buy, say, a Dior handbag, will want to research the brand ethos and product specifications thoroughly. Moreover, whilst he or she is there, they are likely to follow through with the purchase in one of two ways: within the same e-commerce destination, or in-store at a local retailor. Either way, a good-looking, intuitive homepage is key.

There is evidence to suggest that some established luxury brands, too quick to offload engagement paths to their social media channels, are falling behind when it comes to their own stand-alone site and e-commerce platform. In the sixth annual iteration of L2’s Fashion Digital IQ Index, released last month, 90 leading fashion labels have been assessed for their Digital IQ: a combination of not only their digital marketing on mobile and social media, but, crucially their own sites. Burberry, long a forerunner in the digitized retail stakes, is seen to fall to sixth place in the ranking, behind brands like Coach, Gucci and Tory Burch. This might not be so surprising, looking at uk.burberry.com: the brand’s mobile platform, in an ironic twist, feels older and less up-to-date simply because they got there first.

Alternatively, sites like Gucci and Coach are one-step ahead because their back-end digital optimization precisely suits the ROPO model: customers can order online and pick up in store, and the in-house digital system knows both what inventory is there and when and where it is needed. Digital interaction and technical competence shouldn’t just mean relying on NET-A-PORTER: when it comes to luxury purchasing, a strong, defined environment in which customers can research (and fall in love) with their investments is essential to maintaining brand loyalty – as well as driving sales, even in the real world.

Reported by: Claire Healy